My first foray into solo travel was a backpacking trip to Europe for three months. One of the critical concerns of women I’ve talked to on this topic has been their ability to meet people on the road. If you’re not an extrovert, this can be an issue, but there are many ways to meet others on the road and be comfortable with traveling independently. One does not have to the be the loneliest number!
1. Ease Into It
When I backpacked across Europe, I decided to do a group tour for the first two weeks of my trip. The tour calmed my nerves about being alone because there were other female travelers doing the same thing. I got some really great travel tips from my tour mates -whom I still keep in contact with today- and the tour gave me the confidence and conviction that it was okay to be away from home and have some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Gap Adventures and Intrepid Travel are two tour companies that give you a small group experience but also enable you the freedom to go off on your own.
2. Try a Busy City First
Busy cities are hubs of cultural activity: museums, galleries, sights, shopping, and restaurants with plenty of room for single seats at the bar and an opportunity to talk to the wait staff who are usually knowledgeable about the bar and restaurant scene. You won’t need to feel alone because there’s always something to do. Plus, you never know who you could meet on your adventures navigating a new metropolis. You can also try a solo weekend trip to acclimatize yourself to longer solo-trips.
3. Try a Day Tour
Day tours are a great way to see the city with other people, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to explore a new destination. I got hostel recommendations from a great couple when I took a bike tour with other urban-nomads in Barcelona. From there, I met other hostel occupants, and had some really memorable nights out. Ole!
4. Stay in a Hostel
This is the one place where other solo-travelers will be staying. Hostels are cheap, and sometimes, they’ll have activities or run tours so you can meet other people. Most hostels in Europe are the equivalent to a two star hotel, and also give you the option of a private room if you’re uncomfortable sleeping in a dorm. Additionally, hostels usually have their own bars, living areas or planned activities, prime ways to meet others.
5. Meet a Local Through Unique Accommodation Options
Sites like CouchSurfing and GlobalFreeloaders are great sites to try if you’re looking for cheap accommodation (read: free), but also if you want to acclimatize yourself with a local resident. User Feedback on the site enables you to see if its a great place to stay. If you’re a bit weary of trying these sites due to safety and security, I would recommend Air BnB. As stated on their website, it is “a reputation-based site that allows for user reviews, verification, and secure online transactions” for a variety of accommodations (castles or tree houses anyone?). The other great thing about Air B&B is that tenants can rent out their place, leaving you with privacy. Additionally, There are so many ways to create a rapport in advance with your future temporary tenants: Email, Skype, Google Chat, Phone. Another tip is to meet in person when you arrive and have a quick coffee to test the relationship waters, or ask to see the place first before you invest in staying there. In the best of scenarios, you’re getting tips from a local, and you’ve made a new travel friend who may be able to introduce you to his or her network. In the worst case scenario, you can leave and find a local hostel or hotel nearby that will house you.
6. Remember That Its Your Trip
Since you are traveling alone, you get to make the most out of your trip. You can get up on your own time, put your travel priorities at the top, and explore a new destination at your own pace. There’s no-one to report to, no petty fights, and no having to compromise. I have also found when I’m alone that I am that much more approachable, making it much easier to have a conversation with a stranger. When you are open and comfortable to adventure, you manifest that positive energy.
Its a great way to approach someone, and transcends all languages. Smiling is especially a good way to get someone’s attention in a cafe. Maybe you’ve noticed a book they’re reading, or a stylish jacket they’re wearing. Ask them about it and voila! a conversation starter. Since you’re in a foreign destination, the easiest thing to converse about is where you’re from and the city you’re staying in.
8. Play It Safe
One of the disadvantages of traveling alone is that you may be the subject of un-wanted attention (depending on where you travel). You can avoid advances with no eye contact, silence and quickly moving away from the source. In France, a friendly yet creepy stranger decided to follow me, at which point I quickly ducked into the nearest store for safety. At night, its also smart to keep the alcohol at minimal amounts, especially if you are alone to avoid any rash decisions due to lowered inhibitions.
9. Take a Class
Classes enable you to learn a new skill while introducing yourself to others who have the same interests at you. There are tons of classes aimed at foreigners. For instance, yoga retreats, cooking classes, language classes and wine and cheese appreciation courses are a few ways to bond with new friends.
10. Embrace Your Solitude
Relish in the moment. You worked hard for this trip – you earned it and should be proud of your independence. I’ve learned that the fear is part of the excitement. Once you jump in, its really not that scary. You might even find that you like traveling alone!